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[:en]Coral status Maldives[:]

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Based on our recent surveys this year, here is a short summary on our findings of the status of the corals in the Maldives.
 – First, all shallow snorkel depths from water surface to about 3 m was hardest hit by bleaching with a near total loss of table corals. We have found a few reefs on outside of atolls and in high water flow areas where table corals did survive. These areas are the most critical for recovery of the species. That said, it will likely take a min of five years before we start seeing a lot of table corals again and 10-15 years before they are a meter or more in size
– Throughout the country the massive Boulder corals ( Porites) mostly survived and these are now the dominant species on the reefs. These are very important in forming the framework of the reef and they also form the areas used by larger species as cleaning stations
– On many reefs where there were formally many branching corals what you see now are small Boulder corals mixed among dead coral skeletons. We are very fortunate that we didn’t lose these corals as they could take decades to centuries to recover
– Throughout lagoonal environments that once had large stands of staghorn coral, these are mostly dead. Again we have found patches of these corals on every atoll we have visited. These small patches will rapidly expand in size and within 5 years they should form thickets once again
– One of the most positive signs is the high numbers of juvenile corals that are approximately one year old. We find the highest number of these on reef slopes, especially in lagoonal areas. These are dominated by branching corals that were formally very abundant on all reefs. These look like they were babies of corals that spawned last year right before the bleaching event . This is a really positive sign as this means they were able to tolerate higher water temperature and are likely to survive during periods of future high water temperatures. Right now these are smaller than a baseball but will double in size within a year and within two to three years will be old enough to begin reproducing
– There are also a number of reefs where most corals survived the high temperatures last year and these are the ones that are most critical right now as they will produce new corals during annual spawning events that will start to recolonize other reefs
– It is important to note that coral grows very slowly and you can’t expect to see reefs that looked as they did over a year ago already. What is most positve is that these reefs are showing very positive signs of recovery unlike many other reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

 

Are the Maldives under threat of another bleaching event?

 

Currently, it is unlikely that we will experience a bleaching event in the Maldives again. Although water temperatures have increased slightly during March, they are still well below that observed last year.  Last year, due to the El nino, the thermocline disappeared, and warm water (30 C during the entire month of March and 31-35 C during April) extended to 30-40 m depth.  The sea remained calm for over eight weeks, no rainfall, no wind, and blue skies (with only a short break due to a storm only lasting two days on April 22-23).
This year, we’ve had rainfall during March, periods of choppy seas, more cloud cover and only short periods of doldrum-like conditions.  During calm periods, the surface water is warming to 30-32 C, but there is a pronounced drop in temperature at depths of 1-2 m and reef temperatures are 27-28 C ( a few places are 29 C). Due to tidal flow, the warm surface layer in lagoonal areas disappears during the evening and surface water is cool in the morning.
The traditional Maldivian calendar predicts that we are entering Reyva (26 MarApr 7), which may be associated with storms at night and winds from the northwest.  This is followed by Assidha (8-21 Apr), which will begin with a storm, then becoming hot and dry, with mild winds.  At this time the water may heat up somewhat but this is followed by Burunu (22 Apr-5 May) which also begins with a storm and is characterized by rough seas which should moderate water temperatures.
 Attached is one image from NOAA showing the current bleaching predictions for the eastern Hemisphere.  For locations with abnormal temperatures, they are identified as a watch (1 degree C higher than normal for one week) , warning (1 degrees higher or more for 1-4 weeks = possible bleaching), alert level 1 (1 degrees higher or more for 4-8 weeks; bleaching is likely) and alert level 2 (abnormal temperature for more than 8 weeks; coral mortality is likely).  This is updated two times per week.   As of this past Monday, there was no temperature stress around the Maldives.
This is summarized using the best available knowledge and predictions we have access to.  Corals may become pale in some locations, but the corals on these reefs now are those that survived much worse conditions last year, so it is unlikely that they will die.


Andrew Bruckner, PhD.
Director
Coral Reef Conservation Protection and Restoration

bleaching alert March 20 2017

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[:en]Another whale shark rescued in the Maldives[:]

[:en]On the night of the 3rd of November the Carpe Vita liveaboard was anchored at a place in Thaa atoll where often whale sharks come and feed at the back of the boat on plankton attracted by the bright lights.  Whale shark “Kessum”, logged in the database of the whale shark research team under WS113 appeared at the back of the boat with a huge fishing hook and piece of rope attached to it stuck in the side of his mouth. Kessum was last seen in Thaa atoll as well in April 2016.  In this amazing footage you see a guest cutting the rope of the hook in two attempts followed by one of our dive team members pulling the hook out at the third attempt after two failed attempts.

 

The size of the hook is usually not used in the Maldives leaving us to believe that it was most probably used by a foreign fishing boat. Question is of course if they are fishing illegally in Maldives waters where the whale sharks are protected or that Kessum got in trouble somewhere else.  Whale sharks are known to travel quite some distance.

This is not the first time our team members were able to rescue an animal in need of fishing hooks or other trash left behind. See also our other stories under Maldives conservation and protection.

 

 

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Coral bleaching Maldives 2016

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

Globally, 2016 is the warmest year on record, exceeding 2015- the second warmest. These steamy temperatures can be attributed in part to climate change and to the longest El Niño in history. The Maldives were no exception. During April/May 2016 the sea water temperatures heated up to 31-33 C; simultaneously the sea was unusually calm, currents were absent and there was no cloud cover. Together these conditions created intolerable conditions for the corals, which turned stark white through a process known as bleaching. In many locations, the faster growing branching and table corals subsequently died, and shallow reefs are now a graveyard of skeletons carpeted in turf algae.

However, the Maldives was lucky and not all their corals died, and some reefs escaped the perilous conditions. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia where the high temperatures caused the most devastating bleaching and coral death ever documented, the Maldives fared much better. The massive boulder corals bleached, but most recovered. On the reef slopes where there was less penetration of harmful ultraviolet radiation, the branching, table, plating and foliaceous corals survived much better. You will find some dead corals, but you also find many that are still living, and the corals have started to regain their coloration. What was most unexpected was the high survival of small corals- the babies that settled last year and juveniles that are about the size of a baseball all survived. Further, some corals appear to be adapting to the warmer waters – they didn’t bleach at all, and these are likely to spawn during the annual reproductive period next March/April, providing lots of babies that can reseed damaged areas. We also found reefs where there was virtually no coral death – locations on Ari Atoll, and Baa Atoll in particular still have thriving coral communities.

All of these signs point towards coral reefs that are highly resilient and already quickly rebounding. Fortunately, the corals that did die are those that grow the fastest, produce lots of larvae, and exhibit very high settlement. Unlike the devastating coral bleaching event in 1998, research done by Coral Reef CPR suggests that most Maldivian reefs will rebound and look much like they did prior to the bleaching event within five years.
The Coral Reef CPR team were all ocean lovers before becoming coral reef scientists. As a result, we always appreciate our surroundings whilst conducting scientific surveys. Partnering with Carpe Diem Fleet Maldives has provided us with a unique opportunity to assess the health, state and recovery of coral reefs throughout the Maldives- often for the first time! Visiting nine atolls and diving over 40 different reefs gave us a great chance to understand these reefs, and the impact of the global coral bleaching event this year.
Despite this bleaching event, the Maldives still promises some of the most incredible and diverse diving on offer! The country still supports huge populations of endangered and rare animals, including whale sharks and manta rays, incredibly healthy turtle populations with up to a dozen on certain dives and a rebounding shark population which includes grey reef, tiger, black tip and white tip reef sharks. Our dives were always different. Reef fish populations are incredibly healthy throughout the atolls, with shoals of 1000+ being a common feature of many reefs.
We recommend diving in the Maldives if you want unique animals, diverse reefs and beautiful scenery.

[:en]Coral status Maldives[:]

[:en]

Based on our recent surveys this year, here is a short summary on our findings of the status of the corals in the Maldives.
 – First, all shallow snorkel depths from water surface to about 3 m was hardest hit by bleaching with a near total loss of table corals. We have found a few reefs on outside of atolls and in high water flow areas where table corals did survive. These areas are the most critical for recovery of the species. That said, it will likely take a min of five years before we start seeing a lot of table corals again and 10-15 years before they are a meter or more in size
– Throughout the country the massive Boulder corals ( Porites) mostly survived and these are now the dominant species on the reefs. These are very important in forming the framework of the reef and they also form the areas used by larger species as cleaning stations
– On many reefs where there were formally many branching corals what you see now are small Boulder corals mixed among dead coral skeletons. We are very fortunate that we didn’t lose these corals as they could take decades to centuries to recover
– Throughout lagoonal environments that once had large stands of staghorn coral, these are mostly dead. Again we have found patches of these corals on every atoll we have visited. These small patches will rapidly expand in size and within 5 years they should form thickets once again
– One of the most positive signs is the high numbers of juvenile corals that are approximately one year old. We find the highest number of these on reef slopes, especially in lagoonal areas. These are dominated by branching corals that were formally very abundant on all reefs. These look like they were babies of corals that spawned last year right before the bleaching event . This is a really positive sign as this means they were able to tolerate higher water temperature and are likely to survive during periods of future high water temperatures. Right now these are smaller than a baseball but will double in size within a year and within two to three years will be old enough to begin reproducing
– There are also a number of reefs where most corals survived the high temperatures last year and these are the ones that are most critical right now as they will produce new corals during annual spawning events that will start to recolonize other reefs
– It is important to note that coral grows very slowly and you can’t expect to see reefs that looked as they did over a year ago already. What is most positve is that these reefs are showing very positive signs of recovery unlike many other reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

 

Are the Maldives under threat of another bleaching event?

 

Currently, it is unlikely that we will experience a bleaching event in the Maldives again. Although water temperatures have increased slightly during March, they are still well below that observed last year.  Last year, due to the El nino, the thermocline disappeared, and warm water (30 C during the entire month of March and 31-35 C during April) extended to 30-40 m depth.  The sea remained calm for over eight weeks, no rainfall, no wind, and blue skies (with only a short break due to a storm only lasting two days on April 22-23).
This year, we’ve had rainfall during March, periods of choppy seas, more cloud cover and only short periods of doldrum-like conditions.  During calm periods, the surface water is warming to 30-32 C, but there is a pronounced drop in temperature at depths of 1-2 m and reef temperatures are 27-28 C ( a few places are 29 C). Due to tidal flow, the warm surface layer in lagoonal areas disappears during the evening and surface water is cool in the morning.
The traditional Maldivian calendar predicts that we are entering Reyva (26 MarApr 7), which may be associated with storms at night and winds from the northwest.  This is followed by Assidha (8-21 Apr), which will begin with a storm, then becoming hot and dry, with mild winds.  At this time the water may heat up somewhat but this is followed by Burunu (22 Apr-5 May) which also begins with a storm and is characterized by rough seas which should moderate water temperatures.
 Attached is one image from NOAA showing the current bleaching predictions for the eastern Hemisphere.  For locations with abnormal temperatures, they are identified as a watch (1 degree C higher than normal for one week) , warning (1 degrees higher or more for 1-4 weeks = possible bleaching), alert level 1 (1 degrees higher or more for 4-8 weeks; bleaching is likely) and alert level 2 (abnormal temperature for more than 8 weeks; coral mortality is likely).  This is updated two times per week.   As of this past Monday, there was no temperature stress around the Maldives.
This is summarized using the best available knowledge and predictions we have access to.  Corals may become pale in some locations, but the corals on these reefs now are those that survived much worse conditions last year, so it is unlikely that they will die.


Andrew Bruckner, PhD.
Director
Coral Reef Conservation Protection and Restoration

bleaching alert March 20 2017

[:]

[:en]Another whale shark rescued in the Maldives[:]

[:en]On the night of the 3rd of November the Carpe Vita liveaboard was anchored at a place in Thaa atoll where often whale sharks come and feed at the back of the boat on plankton attracted by the bright lights.  Whale shark “Kessum”, logged in the database of the whale shark research team under WS113 appeared at the back of the boat with a huge fishing hook and piece of rope attached to it stuck in the side of his mouth. Kessum was last seen in Thaa atoll as well in April 2016.  In this amazing footage you see a guest cutting the rope of the hook in two attempts followed by one of our dive team members pulling the hook out at the third attempt after two failed attempts.

 

The size of the hook is usually not used in the Maldives leaving us to believe that it was most probably used by a foreign fishing boat. Question is of course if they are fishing illegally in Maldives waters where the whale sharks are protected or that Kessum got in trouble somewhere else.  Whale sharks are known to travel quite some distance.

This is not the first time our team members were able to rescue an animal in need of fishing hooks or other trash left behind. See also our other stories under Maldives conservation and protection.

 

 

 [:]

Coral bleaching Maldives 2016

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

Globally, 2016 is the warmest year on record, exceeding 2015- the second warmest. These steamy temperatures can be attributed in part to climate change and to the longest El Niño in history. The Maldives were no exception. During April/May 2016 the sea water temperatures heated up to 31-33 C; simultaneously the sea was unusually calm, currents were absent and there was no cloud cover. Together these conditions created intolerable conditions for the corals, which turned stark white through a process known as bleaching. In many locations, the faster growing branching and table corals subsequently died, and shallow reefs are now a graveyard of skeletons carpeted in turf algae.

However, the Maldives was lucky and not all their corals died, and some reefs escaped the perilous conditions. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia where the high temperatures caused the most devastating bleaching and coral death ever documented, the Maldives fared much better. The massive boulder corals bleached, but most recovered. On the reef slopes where there was less penetration of harmful ultraviolet radiation, the branching, table, plating and foliaceous corals survived much better. You will find some dead corals, but you also find many that are still living, and the corals have started to regain their coloration. What was most unexpected was the high survival of small corals- the babies that settled last year and juveniles that are about the size of a baseball all survived. Further, some corals appear to be adapting to the warmer waters – they didn’t bleach at all, and these are likely to spawn during the annual reproductive period next March/April, providing lots of babies that can reseed damaged areas. We also found reefs where there was virtually no coral death – locations on Ari Atoll, and Baa Atoll in particular still have thriving coral communities.

All of these signs point towards coral reefs that are highly resilient and already quickly rebounding. Fortunately, the corals that did die are those that grow the fastest, produce lots of larvae, and exhibit very high settlement. Unlike the devastating coral bleaching event in 1998, research done by Coral Reef CPR suggests that most Maldivian reefs will rebound and look much like they did prior to the bleaching event within five years.
The Coral Reef CPR team were all ocean lovers before becoming coral reef scientists. As a result, we always appreciate our surroundings whilst conducting scientific surveys. Partnering with Carpe Diem Fleet Maldives has provided us with a unique opportunity to assess the health, state and recovery of coral reefs throughout the Maldives- often for the first time! Visiting nine atolls and diving over 40 different reefs gave us a great chance to understand these reefs, and the impact of the global coral bleaching event this year.
Despite this bleaching event, the Maldives still promises some of the most incredible and diverse diving on offer! The country still supports huge populations of endangered and rare animals, including whale sharks and manta rays, incredibly healthy turtle populations with up to a dozen on certain dives and a rebounding shark population which includes grey reef, tiger, black tip and white tip reef sharks. Our dives were always different. Reef fish populations are incredibly healthy throughout the atolls, with shoals of 1000+ being a common feature of many reefs.
We recommend diving in the Maldives if you want unique animals, diverse reefs and beautiful scenery.

A coral’s enemy: Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS)

What is the crown of thorns starfish?

The crown of thorns starfish (COTS) is the most voracious coral predator found on Indo-Pacific coral reefs. One starfish will eat a coral every day and can consume all of the corals within a 6-10 square meter area within a year.  They are responsible for destroying entire reefs during severe outbreaks. When COTS undergo population explosions, there may be ten COTS per square meter or more, with tens of thousands of animals invading a single reef. They tend to aggregate, piling on top of table corals and wrapping their bodies around delicate branching corals.  Their path of destruction often resembles a forest fire: they spread through a reef devouring the corals as they move and leaving only a few less preferred corals in their wake.

 

Outbreaks in the Maldives

Coral Reef CPR first began working in the Maldives in 2015 to tackle unnaturally high densities of COTS. This is the third reported outbreak in the Maldives. The first occurred in the 1970s, the second in the early 1990s was slightly larger and more widespread, while the current outbreak is the largest ever witnessed. It began in 2013 in North Malé Atoll; by October, 2015 large numbers of COTS were seen throughout Ari Atoll, two locations on Baa Atoll, one on Lhaviyani Atoll and four locations on South Malé Atoll. Localized but large densities were noted for the first time in 2016 on Shaviyani Atoll.

 diveteamcots

Why do outbreaks occur?

Excess nutrients: COTS larvae feed on plankton and normal survival rates are very low. When nutrients from sewage, fertilizer and run-off enter the usually nutrient-poor tropical waters, there plankton blooms providing these larvae with more food and their survival rates increase.

 

Overfishing of predators: Removing the few predators (Napoleon wrasse, pufferfish, triggerfish, trumpet triton) for the food and souvenir trades reduces predation pressure on the COTS, allowing their numbers to increase.

Life-history and biology: COTS are extremely resilient organisms, with a very rapid and successful life-history. They can regenerate their arms and oral discs within 5-6 months; they are highly fecund and one individual can produce up to 60 million eggs per breeding season (once a year); they can last 6-9 months with no food; they can live and move through very deep water (including between atolls!); their bodies are covered in poisonous spines making them less attractive to the few predators.

 What can be done?

Efforts have been undertaken in the Maldives to remove COTS from the reefs and also inject them with chemicals. This can be very successful, but it requires involvement by dive operators, recreational divers, scientists and resort staff and other volunteers. An effected reef requires an initial clean-up, along with follow up collection efforts to remove any missed starfish. Physical removal is very simple and low cost, our team uses a pvc pipe and mecotscollectingsh bag to collect starfish, sending full bags to the surface with an SMB to avoid injury. If injection methods are used, they must be conducted correctly otherwise the starfish can shed the injected limb, re-growing it rapidly. It is also vital that non-toxic substances are used when injecting so collateral damage to the reef is avoided. The only known effective and non-toxic substances are bile salts and vinegar.

Coral Reef CPR has partnered with Carpe Diem Maldives Pvt. Ltd. to detect outbreaks of COTS throughout the Maldives and remove them from affected reefs.

Dive teams of each of the 3 boats have been provided with the education, tools and mesh bags to remove them and will start removing them whenever possible during regular dives and register the information.

During the 10 night trip on the Vita in August 2016, Coral Reef CPR together with the dive team of the Carpe Vita  removed 242 COTs from different sites.

 

Check back frequently on the Carpe Diem website (https://carpediemmaldives.com/blog/) for the total numbers of COTS we have removed!

 

coralreefCPRcotsCoralreefCPRtrainingVitacoralreefCPRcots2CoralreefCPRNovo

Coral Reef CPR

Coral Reef CPR joining Carpe Vita Nov. 10/20

Marine biologist from Coral Reef CPR joining again on Carpe Vita November 10/20

Andy Bruckner, Coral Reef CPR Director

The Maldives is known for its megafauna, with annual arrivals of mantas and whale sharks, frequent sitings of pilot, humpback and even blue whales, dolphins, recovering shark populations and an abundance of hawksbill turtles.  The Maldives has over 1190 islands in 26 atolls, and also support more coral reef habitat than anywhere else in the Indian Ocean. In fact, the Maldives has more coral reef than the entire Caribbean Sea and about 3.5% of all shallow water coral reefs found worldwide.  The reef structures are unique and diverse ranging from outer, exposed fore reef communities, steeply sloping walls, and lagoonal reefs (circular faru’s and seamounts known as a thila) influenced by tidal currents, to swift flowing, deep clefts (c20160415-P7260002hannel reefs known locally as a kandu) in the rim of the atoll.  They also support more than 220 species of corals, 1,200 reef fish and thousands of other invertebrates.  Yet for more of these reefs, especially those around the more remote northern atolls, we know very little about their structure, composition or health, or the challenges and opportunities they present.

We do know that coral reefs in the Maldives and also elsewhere on the planet are under severe threat as a result of unusual warmer than normal conditions due to the combined impacts of climate change and the worst El Niño event recorded in history.  Other Pacific and Indian Ocean-wide threats, such as the recent population explosion of the voracious crown of thorns starfish (COTS) place these reefs under further risk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Coral reef scientists are also aware that the reefs of the Maldives may be doing better than many other locations.  The wide expanses (more than 90,000 square kilometers!) of clean, open ocean water flushes these reefs during the winter and summer monsoons, cooling the reef and bathing it in a nutrient rich plankton soup.  Further, with exception of the densely populated, highly urbanized city of Malé, there are very few people in the Maldives, and very little direct human pressures on the reefs. Fortunately for the coral reefs.

While guests will be enjoying the normal 4 dives a day offered by the Carpe Vita on this part Northern itinerary, we will thoroughly characterize the coral and fish communities, and their health as we did on our previous trip with the Carpe Vita in August 2016. These surveys will allow us to determine how severe the 2016 coral bleaching event was throughout the Maldives , by combining these data with information from our other sites in Central Maldives and our previous visit.  We will also gather valuable information on the spread of the COTS and impacts of these starfish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

COTS first appeared on the west side of North Malé Atoll in 2013, and in 2015 they begin to spread, invading South Malé atoll and Ari Atoll.  Recently, they’ve been spotted on Lhaviyani and Shaviyani Atolls.  Yet, little is known about their abundance, or effects on these reefs.   Whenever we spot a starfish, we’ll collect it to gather additional scientific information on its genetics and also to prevent it from causing more damage on the reef.  In 2015, in about a week, a team of four scientists removed over 7,500 starfish from two reef systems in North Malé Atoll and one in South Malé Atoll, saving these reefs from demise.  We plan to undertake the same effort during this excursion if we identify outbreaks of the starfish, saving the corals while preventing further expansion of the starfish and future outbreaks.

We are extremely excited to partner with Carpe Diem Maldives Fleet and looking forward to working alongside their team to research these reefs and preserve their health! We will be running regular educational seminars during the trip and be available for all questions, no matter the time of day!

For more information on the work of Coral Reef CPR please visit our website (www.coralreefcpr.org) and if you want to make a difference, why not donate now to help coral reefs of the Maldives (www.coralreefcpr.org/donate-now.html)!